5 facts to know about prostate cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 191,930 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2020. Why not take some time during Men’s Health Week to get the facts about the condition?

Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer among American men, behind only skin cancer. In fact, one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.

But how much do you really know about the condition? Let’s take a look at five facts you should know.

Prostate cancer fact 1: It’s most common among older men.

Increased age is a risk factor for prostate cancer. Most men who are diagnosed with this type of cancer are age 65 and older — in fact, six in 10 cases are found in that age group.

Prostate cancer is relatively rare in men younger than age 40. But men of all ages should pay attention to their health.

It’s especially important for men to be vigilant about their prostate health if they have a father, brother or other close relative who has or has had the disease.

Prostate cancer fact 2: Symptoms often mirror symptoms of other conditions.

Prostate cancer is almost always asymptomatic until it spreads beyond the prostate gland. However, as the cancer advances, men may experience:

  • Blood in semen or urine
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Decreased strength in the urine stream
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • More frequent need to urinate
  • Pelvic discomfort

The trick is that many of these same symptoms are effects from other, unrelated medical conditions or other conditions affecting the prostate, such as an enlarged prostate or prostatitis.

This lack of symptoms make regular screening with serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels and digital rectal exams critical for specific populations of men. That’s why it’s important to have symptoms evaluated by a physician, who can help determine their underlying cause.

Prostate cancer fact 3: Certain men are at a higher risk.

We’ve already mentioned that risk increases as you age, so older men are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. But age isn’t the only risk factor.

African-American men, for example, have a greater risk of prostate cancer than those of other races. In addition, the cancer is more likely to be aggressive or advanced among African-American men.

If men in your family have had prostate cancer, you’re also at a higher risk. There’s another factor to consider here, as well. If you have relatives who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations that place them at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher.

Prostate cancer fact 4: Recommendations for screenings vary.

There’s no real consensus on prostate cancer screening, and the topic has been controversial at times. There are two commonly used types of screening for prostate cancer — the digital rectal exam, or DRE, and the prostate-specific antigen test, called the PSA test.

During a DRE, a medical provider uses a finger to manually examine the size of the prostate and feel for any abnormalities. A PSA test looks at the levels of PSA in the blood.

Whether screening is right for you is something you and your doctor can determine, based on your family medical history, your own medical history, and lifestyle factors. All men between the ages 55 and 69 should be screened, and those at higher risk, including African Americans and men with a family history, should begin at age 40.

Prostate cancer fact 5: There are multiple treatment options for the condition.

While prostate cancer is common, it’s not deadly in most cases. This is primarily because prostate cancer is particularly slow-growing and usually remains confined in the prostate gland.

Prostate cancer treatment is determined in large part by the aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer. Low grade (less aggressive) cancers can typically be monitored through active surveillance, while high grade (aggressive) cancers require timely treatment in the form of surgery, radiation, or a combination of the two.

If the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, Options for options for treatment include hormone therapy and chemotherapy. Your doctor or team of doctors will make a recommendation for treatment based on the stage of cancer and your individual needs.

Men, have you had a checkup yet this year? An annual checkup provides the perfect opportunity to talk with your doctor about whether screening is right for you and what type of screening is best. Find a doctor here.